'Chuck' - 'Chuck vs. the Suitcase': I do my little turn on the catwalk
A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I miss Ace of Base...
"You're my home." -Sarah (possibly quoting Billy Joel)
The second episode of season three, "Chuck vs. the Three Words," spent a lot of time on Chuck trying to apologize to Sarah for a personal issue in the middle of a mission. At the time, it was frustrating - even Chuck shouldn't be that oblivious after several years in spy world - and a harbinger of things to come in a season that contorted itself this way and that to keep Sarah and Chuck apart for as long as possible .
Whether intentional or not, season four's second episode, "Chuck vs. the Suitcase" has a similar structure, as Chuck puts his foot in his mouth early (first with his drooling over the evil supermodel, then with the "I still love you" speech about her weird suitcase thing) and spends a good chunk of the episode trying to make things right with Sarah. The difference is that now Chuck and Sarah are together, and so it's an actual couple fight and not a contrived obstacle. Couples argue sometimes, and Chuck, much as I love the guy and his show, can be incredibly annoying at times, and so the idea of an episode where Sarah's trying to do her job at the same time she thinks her boyfriend is being an ass was actually a lot of fun.
It was one of the show's occasional episodes to remind us that Yvonne Strahovski can, in fact, be funny when asked to, and I liked that as the hour went along, Sarah was becoming just as distracted as Chuck, particularly as Sofia kept turning up naked. (Loved the one-two punch of Sarah yelling "Put some clothes on!" right before she and Chuck were airlifted to safety.) The show put her in her underwear again for a few moments(*), but in the midst of an episode where she was carrying a lot of the humor load, and which climaxed with her having one of the show's more memorable fight scenes, as Sarah and Sofia backflipped and kicked their way up and down the catwalk, until Sarah was the last leggy, bloody woman standing(**).
(*) Josh Schwartz has been understandably noting on Twitter that NBC isn't running promos for the show anymore. As I talked about last week, that seems a sign that NBC has accepted that the "Chuck" audience is the "Chuck" audience and isn't counting on more, but at the same time, I don't know that it would've killed them to do a five-second tease during football of that scene.
(**) I had a good laugh, by the way, at how writers Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc didn't even bother trying to explain why Sarah becoming an overnight fashion celebrity wasn't any kind of problem, either for her current cover or future spy missions. When you come to the "Chuck" Plot Hole of the Week, sometimes it's better to just ignore it than bother justifying it, you know? But I would be amused if, on a future mission, some random civilian recognizes Sarah as the supermodel who kicked the snot out of another model during Fashion Week in Milan.
Like "Chuck vs. the Honeymooners," this was an example of the strength of a show where Chuck and Sarah are a couple. Them getting together hasn't sapped the tension from the show, but instead added a new dynamic. Sometimes that'll play out as the two of them getting turned on as they do spy business, and sometimes it'll be them arguing about who left off the toothpaste cap while in the middle of a firefight. Even the episode's ending moments, in which we realize the relationship's Achilles Heel is that Chuck eventually wants kids and a normal life, while Sarah doesn't, is something the writers can do interesting things with while still making the show that we like.
Meanwhile, the B-story actually came up with a fairly logical, extremely entertaining reason for the inevitable return of Jeffster (and the rest of their dork army,and, eventually, Big Mike) while continuing the idea of the Buy More as a CIA substation. Jeff and Lester's video diary of their fugitive days was priceless (I especially liked the explanation for why Jeff named his pet rock "Bruce"), as was Jeff's uncanny resistance to Casey's beloved tranq darts ("I think my water just broke"). And their triumphant return to the Buy More(***), at just the right moment to help maintain Chuck's cover with Ellie, led to more vintage Jeff grossness, as he asked the pregnant Ellie "Is there room in that womb for two?" (No matter how he meant that... ew.)
(***) I laughed a lot at Morgan holding up the fan for Jeffster and company, a riff on how all Buy More newcomers (particularly the nubile women) seem to enter with a wind machine.
I'll be curious to see how things work now that the losers are working alongside the CIA studs, and with Morgan as the manager. Having General Beckman run the Buy More full-time seemed a contrivance even by "Chuck" standards, but I did like having Bonita Friedericy there in person, and if she's gone back to being a character on a monitor, then we missed the chance to see her interact with Jeff. Plus, while being the manager - and having to keep the civilian employees from finding out about the spy ones - should give Joshua Gomez a lot to do, I hope this doesn't mean he's done going on missions. The Morgan/Casey partnership is too entertaining to be scrapped forever.
Two episodes in. Two episodes filled with laughs and nice character moments and good action, whether implied (last week) or overt (here). I have no idea what NBC's criteria will be for giving the show a back 9 order, or if these 13 episodes are going to be it for the season (and/or series) no matter what. But so far, it feels like this is going to be a really strong run to the finish line.
Some other thoughts:
• With so much focus on Chuck and Sarah - and with Casey banned from Milan due to "the Yves St. Laurent incident" - Adam Baldwin mostly kept to the sidelines this week, but it was nice to see Casey, as well as Sarah, accepting that he has reason to view Burbank as something more than the location of his latest cover. I hope we'll actually get to see him play dad to Alex at some point - and to see more Casey/Morgan tension on that subject - but for now, John's smile at hearing himself say the word "Dad" was enough.
• Meanwhile, Awesome and Ellie's knowledge of Chuck's allegedly finished spy career has added a new layer to the familiar subplots about Chuck's family finding out his secret identity. And after being absent from the premiere, Ryan McPartlin got to do some very funny, and then sweet, material as Awesome tried to over-compensate for the lack of a Mama Bartowski to help Ellie with the baby. (And it seems only fair that any episode that puts Strahovski in her undies should also offer shirtless McPartlin.)
• And speaking of that subplot, props to the prop and/or art departments for coming up with so many pictures of Scott Bakula and Linda Hamilton with small children. You figure those were pictures of them with their actual kids, or a lot of very good Photoshopping?
• This week in "Chuck" guest stars: Isaiah Mustafa (aka The Man Your Man Could Smell Like) was given a lot more to do than Olivia Munn was last week, being his impossibly handsome self but also getting laughs with his price-gun target practice and other feats of super-competence. He also got a hell of a lot more screen time than poor Bronson Pinchot, whose guest appearance got left almost entirely on the cutting room floor, save for the gag about Sofia thinking he was Chuck's date. That was actual supermodel Karolina Kurkova as Sofia, and The Incredible Hulk himself, Lou Ferigno, as her lovestruck bodyguard Gerard.
• This week in "Chuck" music: "Flaunt It" by TV Rock (Chuck and Sarah at the fashion show party), "I Like That" by Richard Vission & Static Revenger Starring Luciana (Chuck and Sarah break into the backstage area and fight with Sofia and Gerard), "Feed My Frankenstein" by Alice Cooper (Jeffster and the other dorks return to the Buy More), and "A Girl, A Boy, and A Graveyard" by Jeremy Messersmith (the final montage, and I like how it also mentions Frankenstein in the lyrics).
What did everybody else think?